Third Parties in Maryland Sue to Reduce Ballot-Access Requirements

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Third parties in Maryland are suing to reduce the signature requirement to appear on November ballots, arguing that the state’s stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines made it impossible for them to exercise their First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit was filed late Tuesday night in U.S. District Court by the Maryland Green Party and Libertarian Party of Maryland. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and Maryland Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone are listed as defendants.

The parties are asking the court to reduce Maryland’s ballot-access requirement from 10,000 signatures of registered voters to 1,000, in light of the public health emergency.

“We believe we have a constitutional right to seek to be on the ballot. The COVID-19 State of Emergency has interfered with the exercise of that right,” Andy Ellis, co-chair of the Maryland Green Party said in a news release. “We have asked the Governor to remedy this situation and he has not, so it is time to ask the court to intervene. Giving voters choices is too important to cast aside.”

Both parties have successfully met the signature requirement to appear on ballots in Maryland for decades. But with large-scale events like farmer’s markets, parades and local fairs canceled or severely curtailed throughout the state, the main events where volunteers have collected signatures in the past are no longer available to parties.

The State Board of Elections approved a policy in April to temporarily allow the collection of electronic signatures. But the parties say uncertainty with gathering signatures electronically ― a process they’re still negotiating with state election officials ― could still keep them from reaching voters’ ballots in the general election.

Before a stay-at-home order initially took effect in March, the Maryland Green Party had collected approximately 5,000 signatures and the Libertarian Party of Maryland had collected approximately 3,000 signatures.

The parties generally collect substantially more than 10,000 signatures to submit to the board to account for signatures thrown out by the state board. The lawsuit also asks for an injunction to limit disqualification of signatures by the state board.

In recent weeks, judges in Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan have issued rulings dramatically curtailing signature requirements for ballot access in those states.

The current deadline in Maryland for party candidates to submit a declaration of intent to appear on the ballot is July 6. The deadline for signatures to retain party recognition for the 2020 election must be submitted by Aug. 3.

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This story will be updated. 

Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines covered government and politics for Maryland Matters for two years before moving into an editing position. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post ― as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at The Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.